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Roger Annis is a lifetime socialist and union member and activist. He began his political activism with the Young Socialists of the day while at university in Nova Scotia. Since then, he has lived in most regions of Canada, including in Montreal where he became fluent in French. He is a retired aerospace worker living in Vancouver. He writes regularly on topics of social justice, peace, and on issues concerning Haiti. His personal blog can be found at http://www.rogerannis.com/. He is a founding editor in October 2014 of The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. In 2004, he helped to found the Canada Haiti Action Network and continues to co-edit its website.

Liberal government breaks promise of pension improvements

| January 2, 2016
Photo by 'Health Care Transformation Canada'

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One week ago, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote a hard-hitting column about the new Liberal government in Ottawa shelving its promise to improve the Canada Pension Plan. His column on the subject was published on December 23.

Amid much fanfare, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau made a promise on September 14 to boost the old age pensions of Canadians should his party win election on October 19. CBC reported:

The Liberal plan includes a promise to restore the eligibility for old age security and guaranteed income supplement back to 65 [from the change to age 67 by the Harper Conservatives], a new seniors price index to make sure those benefits keep up with rising costs, a ten per cent boost to the guaranteed supplement for single low-income seniors, and a pledge not to cut pension income splitting for seniors.

Trudeau made his announcement at a staged setting, surrounded by members of CARP (formerly named the Canadian Association of Retired Persons), an organization that has long campaigned for improvements to Canada's public pension plans.

In reality, the Liberal campaign promise was quite modest. It did not propose any increases to CPP benefit payments, the core of Canada's three-tiered old age support system. In addition to CPP, Canada's public pension plan includes the 65-and–older, universal Old Age Security payment and the 65-and-older Guaranteed Income Supplement.

The Liberals did not even propose reversing the punitive Harper measure, effective as of 2012, which raised the penalty for those opting to begin receiving CPP benefits as early as age 60.

Regardless, even the modest Liberal wish-list was placed on hold when provincial finance ministers met with their federal counterpart on December 21. The Star's Walkom reports:

They are not doing anything. They are not even bothering to make empty promises about doing anything. After hosting a federal-provincial meeting this week that dealt with the CPP, all Finance Minister Bill Morneau could provide was a promise to study the issue further and meet again.

It was hardly an example of the federal leadership that Trudeau had promised during the election campaign.

Yes, you read that right. Barely two months after winning election, and three months after promising to move heaven and earth to improve public pensions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have shelved this key election promise on social policy. Morneau said on December 21 that finance ministers will return to discussion of the CPP in six months time. Or maybe they won't. 

CPP legislation already requires a three-year waiting period to implement any changes that are approved.

CARP says in a December 29 press release that it is "outraged" by the government's betrayal.

The early Liberal betrayal is the latest in a string of pension betrayals by Ottawa. This writer has written extensively about this, notably in this February 2014 article.

Pensions are not the only election promise where the Liberals are backing away. The Liberal government is failing to withdraw its fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing of Syria. To add insult to injury for peace-loving Canadians, Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan made a five-day tour to the Middle East just prior to Christmas as part of planning for an expanded military role for Canada in the Middle East.

The lesson of the pension experience is that meaningful reforms cannot be expected of the new government in Ottawa. Extraordinary pressure through public education and protest will be required.

Petitions, loud and large public protests, public education -- these were the tools used by the "Grey Power" movement in 1985 to force then-Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to back off from plans to cut inflation protection for pensions. That pressure was not sustained and did not prevent later cuts by the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and then the Harper Conservatives, nor enough to win significant improvements to CPP. But the example could serve us well today. It sure beats naïve hoping-against-hope, which is about all that can be said for the efforts of Canada's trade unions on this file during the past five years.

One of the curious failings of the New Democratic Party campaign in the October 2015 federal election was how it was outflanked and outscooped by the Liberals on the pension issue. The party went into the election championing pension improvements, even if its proposals were short on detail. But this never featured largely in the NDP campaign, making it another issue where the party failed to distinguish its program from that of the Liberals.

This article also appeared on Counterpunch. Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver BC. He publishes a blog on Rabble.ca and compiles his writings on a 'A Socialist in Canada'. He is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. He can be reached at .

Postscript, Jan 18, 2016:
Ontario moves forward with provincial pension plan
, by Adrian Morrow, The Globe and Mail, Jan 17, 2016 (full text, emphasis added)

Ontario is charging ahead with a major expansion of retirement benefits while the rest of the country takes at least a year to make up its mind. The province last week appointed Saad Rafi, one of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s most trusted civil servants, as CEO of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, the surest sign yet that Queen’s Park is on track to launch the program at the start of 2017...

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